Supplements for Stress

A holistic approach

Research tells us that about a quarter of Canadians feel quite a bit, or extremely, stressed most days. Things can be even more stressful this time of year! When we feel our stress levels rising, there are many things we can do, from mindfulness practices to counselling.

Supplements may also be part of the solution, when combined in a holistic plan with oversight from your health care practitioner. Tackling stress typically requires a multifaceted approach, so the more tools we can have in our proverbial toolkit, the better.

Scientists are studying many different dietary supplements—alone, and in combination forms—for stress relief. Here are a few currently making headlines.

B vitamins, solo

A 2019 review and meta-analysis examined the effects of B vitamin supplementation on the mood of healthy and at-risk populations, totalling 2,015 participants. The researchers found that supplementation benefitted both groups when it came to feelings of stress. It especially helped those who were at an increased risk due to poor nutrient status or poor mood status. B vitamins are widely available at natural health retailers in a variety of forms.

B vitamins, in combination 

There has also been much interest in combination supplements for stress—two of these recent studies include B vitamins.

One 2020 study measured the effects of four weeks of ashwagandha and B vitamin supplementation on mood and stress relief in 40 women aged 30 to 50. The women experienced reduced perceived levels of stress; researchers called for further studies to be done.

A second 2020 study investigated a supplement that contained magnesium, B vitamins, green tea, and rhodiola versus placebo, and also versus several of the nutrients in isolation. The researchers confirmed that the combination reduced the negative effects of acute stress in adults, when measured subjectively. They conclude: “This preliminary evidence suggests the capacity of these ingredients in combination to confer protective effects under conditions of stress in adults.”

The role of gut health 

For several years, scientists have been delving into the topic of how our gut microbiomes affect our moods, and the research keeps on coming! Although it’s still a bit premature to recommend specific probiotic or prebiotic supplements, scientists are recommending a greater focus on gut health and the consumption of healthy bacteria (probiotics) and fibre (prebiotics).

Two recent studies from March 2020 focus on the topic. As one study explains, “Probiotic supplementation has also shown promise, with a reduction in anxiety and depression reported in many human and animal studies.” The second study noted, “High-quality diets, prebiotics, and probiotics may beneficially affect mood.” This study highlighted the potential role of fructooligosaccharide, galactooligosaccharide, and bifidobacteria.

The role of fats 

Another fascinating area of research is the effect type of fat consumption has on mood. Although there are numerous types of healthy fats in supplement or nutraceutical form at health food stores, more research needs to be done before specific recommendations can be made. Nevertheless, preliminary research shows that healthy fat consumption (such as alpha-linolenic acid and other omega-3s) may be linked to less anxiety, whereas unhealthy fats (such as trans fats) are associated with degrees of stress and anxiety.

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